The Making of a Football

What impact is technology having on football production? The FIFA Quality Programme met with some manufacturers and members of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry to find out.

Around half of the manufacturers of FIFA certified footballs are based in Sialkot, Pakistan. This region has specialised in football manufacturing, with a small number of producers owning their brands but a majority making footballs for the main brands in the market. Over the years, the producers have played a key role in the FIFA Quality Programme supporting the push for quality of footballs worldwide.

The high-end footballs as we know them today have been around for less than a decade. An innovative thermal-bonding production technique was first applied to official match balls for elite competitions at the turn of the century. In response, FIFA modified the test requirements in 2015 to reflect the better performance, specifically in relation to improved water resistance. Current efforts to further improve footballs range from seeking new raw materials and innovative production techniques to different quality controls and test criteria while simultaneously strengthening commitment to social responsibility.

Production process

A little known fact is that almost every football manufactured today is made of synthetic leather, as its thickness varies far less than real leather, as well as a latex or butyl bladder and a number of additional layers covered with a waterproof coating. These layers are printed and cut into panels of various shapes which are stitched together to form the ball. With production techniques having evolved over the last years, four common processes – described below in more detail – dominate manufacturing today with a growing number of patents for these methods.

Hand stitched

These balls have deep and strong seams that benefit the durability of the ball. On average, a worker can make two balls in 8 hours.

Machine stitched

This process is frequently used for balls that meet the minimum quality requirements at a competitive Price.

Hybrid

A combined process of stitching synthetic leather with an additional application of adhesive to glue the panels all together.

Thermal bonding

Instead of stitching the panels, these are placed inside a mould that is heated by a machine to press and glue the panels together.

Quality control and future proofing

Sialkot’s manufacturers have adapted to the changing times and not only engaged in new production techniques, which have seen every FIFA World Cup ball produced by thermal bonding since 2006 but have increasingly focused on quality control of production processes. Besides the performance checks for compliance with the Laws of the Game and the FIFA Quality Programme - footballs testing manual, the industry is increasingly investigating more traditional quality assurance processes to increase the consistency of quality for the balls.

By putting in place these manufacturing and control mechanisms, Sialkot’s major football producers have shown their willingness to retain hold of this important industry. Work on the next steps of football development, be it sustainable materials, production processes or new and improved test methods for balls, such as FIFA’s aerodynamics research, is already well underway in “the capital of footballs” that seeks to hang on to this title despite changing times.